Notes on The Program
Professor Thelma Rast, Emeritus Faculty of Lenoir Rhyne University
These program notes first appeared in the 1991-1992 WPS program on the occasion of Maestro John Gordon Ross’ first concert as Music Director and Conductor of the Western Piedmont Symphony on September 28, 1991 in this auditorium. Hickory Choral Society provided the choral forces and the soloists were Mary Kindt, Soprano; Diane Thornton, Mezzo Soprano; Perry Smith, Tenor; and John Williams, Bass-Baritone. Audience please note that 1991 saw major cosmetic changes to the seating area in P.E. Monroe Auditorium. Last season in October 2016, those refurbished seats and carpet from 1991 were replaced and enhanced as well by a new paint job and lighting. Most significant of all from a musical standpoint was the acquisition through a group of generous donors of the Bösendorfer Grand Piano.
Overture: Das Weihe Des Hauses (The Consecration of the House), Op. 124
(Ludwig van Beethoven)
Born in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770
Died in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1827
Composed for the ceremonial inauguration of the remodeled Josephstadt Theatre in Vienna, on October 22, 1822, Beethoven’s last and crowning overture, The Consecration of the House is a perfect choice for this season’s closing concert of the Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra. The audience will immediately notice repaired, refurbished seats and new carpet in Monroe Auditorium. More significantly, in its early history, this overture was closely connected at least two different times with the major work on tonight’s program, the Ninth Symphony, Op. 125. Laboring for many years on the Ninth, Beethoven interrupted work on that monumental composition to write the famous Missa Solemnis, Op. 123, and The Consecration of the House, Op. 124. Then for the first performance of the Ninth on May 7, 1824, the concert opened with this overture, followed by three movements of the Missa , and concluded with the new, finally completed “Choral” Symphony. All were received “with deepest appreciation and storming applause.”
In the late summer of 1822, when Beethoven was commissioned to help celebrate the opening of the Josephstadt Theatre, he realized it was too late to write a complete new work. Chosen instead to be one of the principal works of the evening was Kotzebue’s play, The Ruin of Athens, for which Beethoven had already written incidental music for a presentation in Budapest, some eleven years earlier. For the opening of the Josephstadt, he did, however, mark some revisions and felt it only fitting to write a new, more appropriate overture. Composed mostly in September when Beethoven was in Baden, the Consecration was not completed until the actual day of the performance. Early arrivals even heard some of the first and only rehearsal!
Long an admirer of Baroque music, Beethoven took a form developed in that era, the French Overture. The form consists of two parts, a slow, majestic opening section with strong dotted rhythms followed by a fast, lively fugal section. While walking with his nephew in the woods near Baden, Beethoven is said to have received the inspiration for the two “Handelian” themes which dominate the piece.
Following five solemn opening chords in C Major, the slow, ceremonial march-like theme is heard pianissimo in the winds with pizzicato accompaniment. At one point trombones underscore the solemn rhythms but are never heard again in the overture. Following Rossini-like crescendos, the great expansive fugue on a theme that reminds one of Handel becomes one of Beethoven’s most important expressions in that from, a form he clearly loved and used frequently in his late works.
Symphony #9 in D minor, Op. 125 “Choral”
(Ludwig van Beethoven)
With Final Chorus on Friedrich Schiller’s “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”)
For Beethoven, one of the most decisive and influential composers of all time, the decade of his life was the culmination of a life filled with personal problems and his gallant efforts to overcome them, to rise triumphant in spite of what Fate had dealt him. It had begun with a miserable family background and a poor education. Then as early as his twenties, he began to notice an increasing deafness, an affliction which resulted in total deafness and social isolation especially during those last years.
As an artist-composer, Beethoven also forcefully reflected the great social changes occurring during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One aspect from the Enlightenment was a change in human values, more emphasis on the worth of each human being. The American and French Revolutions and the American Bill of Rights all emphasized liberty, equality, fraternity.
In line with contemporary thinking, Beethoven further became the first great composer to express the ideal that art music should be an educational force, a moral force; the artist must use his art to deliver a message expressing the ideals of his time. Consequently, this assertive, heroic Beethoven became one of the most disruptive forces in all of music history.
The Ninth Symphony is truly awesome in its presentation of the composer’s belief in the arrival of joy through suffering, in his belief that the joy of the brotherhood of man can arise above the pains of life and living, in his awareness of the fatherhood of God the Creator, and in his reaching out to humanity through his expression of these ideals.
While interest in Friederich Schiller’s famous “Ode to Joy” dates back to the early 1790’s and musical sketches of parts of the Ninth date from the early nineteenth century, Beethoven did not really begin composing this monumental work until the last decade of his life, concentrating most of his work from 1822 until it was completed in February 1824. Although Op. 125 follows the traditional four movements (with the Scherzo appearing second), Beethoven in this imposing work transcends the usual concept of this symphony as an abstract orchestral composition by adding a text (Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”) with soloists, quartet, and chorus in the fourth movement.
The first performance was conducted by Michael Umlauf in Vienna on May 7, 1824. Sitting in the middle of the orchestra, the totally deaf composer could hear neither the performance nor the tumultuous applause.
I. Growing from nothingness, the movement begins with a very quiet, rustling in the strings. As the music unfolds, the first theme is striking, a very majestic, jerky falling figure, sometimes aligned to the pounding of an anvil. Numerous lyric ideas follow. Somewhat later the full orchestra plays very loudly the soft opening music. Near the end, the powerful falling figure is stated a final time.
II. While the first movement exuded poser, this cheerful, rollicking scherzo expresses joy. With timpani blows and interweaving string lines, the exhilarating rhythm of this scherzo is quite different from the traditional gentle, graceful minuet. A lyrical, playful middle section provides contrast between the joyous scherzo and its return.
III. Following the poser and joy of the first two movements, the third is one of great beauty, very slow, lyrical, lovely and pleading. A set of variations on two themes, this movement is considered to be one of the most tender and compassionate Beethoven ever wrote.
IV. Opening furiously with an almost militant clamor, a long introduction to this very fast finale includes references to the principal themes of each of the first three movements. Sir Donald Tovey wrote, “Beethoven’s plan was to remind us of each of the first three movements and then to reject them as failing to attain the joy in which he believes. After all three have been rejected, a new theme is to appear…hailed and seen as the (real) hymn of joy.”
While quite complicated (containing characteristics of cantata, opera, sonata, and fugue), the movement is essentially a set of variations on that famous theme Beethoven gave to the first stanza of Schiller’s Ode. Following several instrumental variations, the baritone enters in recitative with words composed by Beethoven himself: “O friends, not these tones! Let us take a more joyous strain.” After the baritone sings the first stanza of Schiller’s Ode, the chorus joins in. The next two stanzas are sung by a quartet with the chorus joining in for the repetition of the final bars.
For an interesting digression there is a transformation of the famous theme into a lilting orchestral march in the style of Turkish music, so popular at that time. Momentum builds through a very lively orchestral fugue, followed by a double fugue for chorus, and finally a triumphant coda.
In spite of the tremendous success of that first performance, it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the “Choral” Symphony became well-known and appreciated. Always a favorite of Richard Wagner, he took it upon himself to make the work well-known to the public. For the dedication commemorating his Bayreuth Festival Theatre on May 22, 1872, Wagner conducted the Ninth. It is the only non-Wagnerian piece ever allowed on the same Bayreuth program as Wagner’s own work. It was also one of the last pieces he played on the piano not long before he died.
Ranking as one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit, this unbelievably awesome work is especially appropriate to express the great joy being experienced in the last decades of the twentieth century as freedom, democracy and the brotherhood of man are becoming more of a reality all over the world. It was the major work on the concert commemorating the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. What great joy would be Beethoven’s if he could but know how prophetic and how inspiring his monumental “ODE TO JOY” is to mankind.
"An die Freude"
"Ode to Joy"
Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,